Friday of the First Week in Lent
(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)
Over twenty-five years ago Jim had a coronary bypass. It was radical surgery, but the discipline that his doctors imposed was even more extreme. A heavy smoker since he was a teen, Jim had to give up cigarettes cold turkey. A professional in a demanding administrative job, Jim had to take time to exercise every day. Overweight, he had to shed excess pounds. In short, if he was going to live much longer, Jim he had to turn on head life-long habits at the age of fifty. Jim’s brother died shortly before the bypass reminding him that doctor’s instructions are not professional drivel. Jim is alive and well today at eighty plus year. He may not be as thin as his doctor would like, but he doesn’t smoke and habitually exercises.
In the gospel Jesus calls for a change of life-style every bit as radical as Jim’s although on a spiritual level. We are no longer to get angry with or make fun of a brother or sister. Here Jesus refers not so much to our blood relatives but to the men and women of our church. If the Christian community is to be “the light of the world,” as Jesus says, its members have to constantly give good example. Refraining from anger and mockery (“Raqa” means empty-headed) are but the beginning of respect for others.
Is it then permissible for us to curse or deride people who don’t belong to our church? Such hair-splitting is what Jesus steers his disciples from in the Sermon on the Mount. The Scribes and Pharisees would make such distinctions so that they might indulge their passions while priding themselves for moral superiority. In truth Christians through the centuries have frequently acted in this way. But Jesus has called us to a new righteousness which decries self-congratulations. We are to see in everyone a potential sister or brother and to treat her or him accordingly.